Sharron Angle's website is undergoing a makeover.
So is her living room-based campaign.
Sharron Angle, the candidate, is not.
The Tea Party favorite, who will face the Democratic incumbent Harry Reid in the fall, said she doesn't plan to back off her staunch conservative views while running for the U.S. Senate.
"We have a movement that is in the mainstream," Angle argued last week on a conservative radio talk show, which has become her medium of choice for getting her message out.
What about Democratic and even Republican critics who call her "wacky" and "extreme" and "dangerous" for wanting to get rid of some federal programs and the federal tax code?
"They are actually on the radical fringe if they think that this going towards socialism on the fast boat is the way to go," Angle answered, echoing Republicans who have complained the Obama administration is taking over private business with industry bailouts and the new health care law.
Although Angle is revamping her grass-roots campaign with the help of national Republican Party leaders -- she'll be in Washington this week for a series of high-level meetings -- she said she's not about to remake herself into a moderate as November nears.
Defying conventional wisdom that a candidate must tack to the moderate middle in a general election, Angle is holding to her strict constitutional conservative line. Oddly, that could give her a better chance to defeat Reid in an election year in which an anti-tax, anti-big government Tea Party insurgency is boiling inside the Republican Party and beyond, say political analysts.
"This is the kind of election cycle that an imperfect Republican candidate can and will win in some cases," said Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report, which rates the race as "tilting Republican," giving Angle a slight edge over Reid for now. "I don't know if Sharron Angle is one of them. But it would be incredibly foolish for Harry Reid and the Democrats to dismiss Sharron Angle out of hand by looking at her views. There are larger forces at play in this race."
Indeed, all of the David versus Goliath dynamics make the Angle versus Reid contest a high-stakes electoral test. It pits a Tea Party populist's appeal against a Democratic incumbent's power as the former Reno assemblywoman takes on the U.S. Senate majority leader in the political fight of his career.
"Angle can be competitive simply because a big part of this race is about Reid," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the widely watched Cook Political Report that rates the race a toss-up, meaning either Angle or Reid could win. "As for Reid, he must feel like it's Christmas. He got exactly the candidate he wanted, someone with a record that provides plenty of fodder to exploit."
Reid seems to see Angle as his best chance for re-election because he can portray her as "extreme" and "dangerous."
But the Reid campaign isn't taking any chances and has moved more swiftly than expected to knock her out of contention while she's struggling to shift into higher gear.
The Reid campaign seemed to change tack late last week, attacking Angle after she got a big post-primary boost of attention. A Rasmussen poll taken one day after Tuesday's primary showed her up 50 percent to 39 percent over Reid.
On Friday, the Reid campaign put out a surprise attack ad against Angle,Â just a day after releasing two positive ads with Reid promoting clean-energy jobs and after saying Reid would run positive ads through Nov. 2, but might go negative at some point down the line.
The 30-second television spot warns people that Angle wants to "wipe out Social Security" and that she is in favor of a "Scientology plan to give massages to prisoners."
The Reid ad uses some of the same fake footage of inmates getting massages behind bars that Republican Sue Lowden used in her failed GOP primary campaign against Angle.
"First a Scientology plan to give massages to prisoners," a narrator for the Reid ad says. "Now she wants to get rid of Medicare and Social Security. What's next?"
The Angle campaign didn't respond right away, having no quick-reaction force to deploy.
"We're going to have to do a lot of push backs and we're doing interviews to get more people on board to help," Angle campaign spokesman Jerry Stacy said last week as the attacks began.
Angle, a Southern Baptist, dismissed the Scientology charges as nonsense during the primary. In 2003, Angle, then a state lawmaker, suggested Nevada consider adopting an anti-drug program such as one in Mexico that used massage and steam treatment to help inmates kick the habit. But Democratic leaders in the Legislature nixed the idea. The treatment uses some Scientology methods, but the controversial religion had nothing to do with the prison program, she said.
On Social Security and Medicare, Angle says she wants to phase them out and replace them with "free-market alternatives," although previous GOP administrations have failed at privatization efforts. Angle says seniors wouldn't get the rug pulled out from under them; she wants to phase out the system, starting with young workers who would need private social insurance plans.
"The government must continue to keep its contract with seniors, who entered into the system on good faith and now are depending on that contract," Angle says on her website.
Angle, a former teacher, is unapologetic about wanting to trim the federal government and get rid of some agencies, including the Department of Education, arguing for more local and state control.
But some of her views might not go down well with many Nevadans, especially in vote-rich Clark County, the base of support for Reid, who grew up in the small mining town of Searchlight.
The best example is Angle's proposal to reprocess used nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, a position that's highly unpopular among voters who thank Reid for killing a proposed nuclear waste dump there.
Angle sees Yucca as a way to create jobs, while Reid sees its development as dangerous.
In the general election, the key battleground will be Clark County. So Angle plans to spend a lot more time in Southern Nevada, spokesman Stacy said.
"Sharron's already got a good solid base of support up North," Stacy said. "And because Sharron's a very likeable person, I think the more time she spends in Clark County, the better."
Angle also has challenged Reid to debate, and his campaign said he'll do at least one. Angle won the most support in primary debates, according to audience straw polls. Taking on the powerful Senate majority leader face to face could put her on equal ground with him in voters' eyes.
"We always want to debate the issues rather than personal attacks. Nobody likes that," Angle said last week on the Heidi Harris talk show on KDWN-AM, 720, which plans to have her on once a week. "I think that was proven in the primary. When you run a clean campaign on the issues we have victory."
Nobody expects this Senate campaign to be anything other than a wrestle in the mud -- mud slung if not by the candidates themselves then by the political parties, surrogates and outside groups.
Angle isn't above reeling off a list of Reid's greatest gaffes, either.
Appearing on Alan Stock's conservative radio talk show on KXNT-AM, 840, Angle made a reference to the hot water Reid got into earlier this year when a book revealed the Senate majority leader said Obama could win the presidency in part because of his style and appearance.
"I'm more mainstream than the fellow that said tourists stink, this war is lost, and light-skinned no-Negro dialect," Angle said, adding that's what a "whack-job, marginal candidate sounds like."
While Angle rode the radio circuit last week, behind the scenes the brain trust of her do-it-yourself campaign -- including her husband, Ted, campaign manager Terry Campbell and spokesman Stacy -- plotted strategy with outside advisers for a general election they seemed unprepared to launch.
"We're just trying to revamp and look more professional here," Stacy said. "We're all volunteers for the most part. But now we're hiring and getting advice and a lot of help from people all over the country. We're gonna lengthen and strengthen now. The money is already pouring in."
The first revamping sign came a day after the primary. The Angle campaign pulled down its website and replaced it with a page that said "Thank You, Nevada!" and asked for online donations.
The money began streaming in at a rate of about $150,000 a day, a pace that -- if it continues through Nov. 2 -- could raise more than $20 million online alone. That's close to the total $25 million Reid has estimated he'll raise for his re-election campaign. He's already spent about $10 million.
In comparison, Angle raised only $1.2 million herself through late May. Two outside conservative groups, the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth, spent at least $1.2 million on ads to promote her as well. The outside money helped propel her from 5 percent in the polls to a blowout victory.
She's now starting to surround herself with top political talent.
To rebuild her website, Angle hired a communications group that boosted U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. The Prosper Group Corp. devised the online strategy it said raised $12 million for Brown, the Republican who pulled off an upset in January over Democrat Martha Coakley to capture the late Ted Kennedy's seat.
After Angle critics noticed she had taken down information related to her positions on issues, they surmised she might be giving that section a scrub to get rid of more controversial ideas.
Stacy dismissed the speculation, saying the website was getting a professional "wax and polish."
When the "issues" and "about Sharron" links reappeared late last week, the still-developing website looked cleaner, although some sections needed editing to fix grammatical mistakes. But Angle's positions hadn't changed from when she first launched her Internet site in March.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.